On Oct. 6, 2010, the world met Instagram. Since then, 80 million users have hopped on board with the iPhone and Android versions of the Instagram app, as well as the various creative uses of Instagram's API. Those brands that are succeeding on the platform understand some fundamentals.
First off, Instagram is obviously a visual medium. Photos should look good, tell a compelling story, or get a laugh whenever possible. Follow the old rule of "know your audience."
Secondly, brands should use #hashtags, which is how Instagram photos are organized into albums. Brands can leverage popular #hashtags to help users discover their content and create new #hashtags to organize their own content.
Finally, whether your brand is using one of Instagram's mobile apps or you are building a custom application that uses Instagram's API, integrate your other social media channels. Share to your other channels, and let your users share to their personal networks. It is worth noting that Instagram is a mobile-only social media platform. But other services, via Instagram's API, make viewing on the web possible. A favorite of mine is Web.stagram.com.
So what fundamental knowledge do brands need to succeed on Instagram? Consider these simple tips.
Tip 1: Don't miss the boat
If your brand isn't already on Instagram, it probably should be. Until you join, you are forfeiting access to a global audience of 80 million (and growing) registered users. You have to go where the people are. Just as brand websites became compulsory in the 1990s and early 2000s, Instagram has joined the ranks of Twitter and Facebook as a "must have" channel.
Putting it into action
Don't be scared. Just get it done. Start with a personal account -- go ahead. You can do it right now. Download the Instagram app, connect your Twitter, Facebook, blog, Flickr, or email accounts, and start sharing photos! One of the big reasons that Instagram is popular because it's so freakin' easy. Snap a pic, apply a filter (or don't), and then share. That's it.
If you are the one personally responsible for the creation and maintenance of your company's Instagram presence, start with a personal account. Learn the Instagram audience a bit before committing your brand to communicating with an audience that you don't quite understand yet.
One of the things that you'll notice right away is how deeply the Instagram audience will engage with your content. Remember to set some alerts so you'll know when anyone has commented or "liked" one of your photos. And while you're at it, browse around and leave some "likes" and comments on other people's and brands' photos. It's fun!
Tip 2: Get visual
The top 10 most popular brands on Instagram are MTV, Starbucks, Burberry, Nike, GE, Gucci, Audi, Tiffany & Co., Hermes, and McDonald's. Most of these are inherently visual brands. But others, like GE and even Starbucks, aren't necessarily eye-candy fodder. Yes, they succeed because they have unfathomably large marketing budgets. But they also succeed because of a clear track record of offering compelling visual content to users. Make it look good, funny, yummy, emotional -- whatever. Just make it visually compelling to the best of your ability.
Consider GE's approach:
Putting it into action
So what can we learn from these behemoth brands that have seemingly unlimited marketing budgets? Well, not much, in my opinion. These guys are going to be able to finance the most cutting-edge social tools (and consultants) out there. But there is one thing that's really hard to buy: clever creativity. Hold regular brainstorm sessions either alone or with your social media team and come up with ideas. Strategies don't have to be complex, and good ideas don't have to be expensive. Learn how to tell your brand's story, most effectively, through images.
Tip 3: Go backstage
Fans frequently follow brands because they want exclusive access to content not seen elsewhere. People like to make personal connections to brands, and Instagram is a great way to give fans this exclusive point of contact. Offer a coupon, preview an upcoming product or service, or -- better yet -- invite your users behind the scenes of your brand's daily operation.
Putting it into action
There is a page on BuzzSugar that recommends the most interesting TV stars on Instagram. They are interesting because they give regular old schmos like us a glimpse into the dazzling world of celebrity escapades (or something like that). What would be smart is if the networks that distribute those shows or even the production companies that produce them were to partner with their TV stars to repurpose some of their content, if allowed.
Jimmy Fallon is a marriage of celebrity and brand. Jimmy has transcended the brand of "Late Night" with the strength of his personality, so to many of his fans, his show isn't "Late Night with..." It's just "The Jimmy Fallon Show." So when he promotes himself, he promotes his show at the same time. Check out his Instagram feed here. His behind-the-scenes photo post with Justin Bieber was understandably popular.
Take a cue from Jimmy Fallon and snap Instagram pics of your product rolling off the line. Or use it to tell visual stories about the people behind the brand. How about creating a campaign that takes the user on a journey? Wouldn't it be cool to follow a timeline of photos that begins with a photo of the user ordering a product and ends with a photo the product being delivered to that same user's front door? It would be a #PhotoRoadTrip. Involve your followers by making them part of the story.
Tip 4: Crowdsource your creative
One of the most direct ways to engage your Instagram audience is to ask directly for new ideas. Invite your followers to help shape the concepts of new campaigns, products, and services.
Putting it into action
When a user follows you on Instagram, it's normally safe to assume that the user is a fan of the brand and expects engagement. So when formulating new campaigns, products, or services, why not go straight to a large and willing group of brand experts -- your fans on Instagram?
You might choose to "leak" new designs, products, or services, which can help engage the audience. Invite them to comment on and critique what they see. After all, they're already going to -- so you might as well give them permission. And this way, you can moderate the discussion.
Let's say that you are a used car dealership. You could turn to Instagram and ask, "Who needs a good-as-new used car the most? Is your jalopy worse than this wreck?" alongside a photo of one of your most ragged-looking trade-in vehicles. You could award the winner a prize, or you could distribute coupons to submitters -- the end of this casual "contest" wouldn't matter much. What would matter is that you would then have a funny photo album of beat-up cars that you could publish to Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, and other outlets for additional engagement. You could even repurpose the photos for print and broadcast (but check with your lawyer on that one first).
Instagram users engage deeply -- up to 25 percent for some brands. Invite them to the party and give them opportunities to interact with you. They will.
Keep these quick tips in mind as you get your brand rolling on Instagram.
- Learn to speak the visual language of Instagram.
- Correctly use #hashtags to help users discover your content.
- Integrate with other social media channels as much as possible.
- Show followers behind-the-scenes peeks and other exclusive content.
- Instagram users engage deeply, so turn to your audience for creative ideas.
- Most importantly, if you aren't already, get on Instagram!
"Silhouettes of concert crowd" image via Shutterstock.